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Hello.

I'm a 333 holder, and soon to be a 107 holder and since 2014 have watched the growth explosion of commercial drones. Drones have gotten easier to operate, and cheaper at the same time. In addition, software companies have made it simple stupid to produce maps, models, NDVI, and the like.

Do you feel the drones as a service business model is still worth getting into? Also, do you feel with the latest Part 107 rules, that the market will now be oversaturated?
 
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The typical things one hears on the internet: NDVI for farmers, 2d mapping, 3d modeling, thermal inspections and mapping, general videography and photography for events, real estate, etc.
 
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Before my answer a little about my background.

My most recent career started about six years ago when I left Microsoft and became a professional photographer after many years as an amateur. In this six years I've moved from portrait to school. to sports and finally to real estate and other commercial photography. I've had a private pilot certificate for years and when 333 came out I saw a market advantage and got into aerial photography with an emphasis on real estate, because that's where everyone said would be a great market.

I've been doing real estate and construction sites for the past 8 months, and have done some surveying for mining companies.

I think the 2d mapping, 3d modeling and survey market will dry up for 333 and 107's. I say this because the people who want these products are already technologically advanced and will see drones as another tool in their belt. That's a nice way of saying that they're geeks and will glom onto the new toys (hey, I'm a geek too, as are a pretty significant percentage of the frequent contributors here.) I think there will be a small market for people who want to offer these services, but their problem is going to be connecting with the people who want it.

Farming - I don't have enough knowledge of the industry to say for sure. My initial reaction was that if I was a farmer I'd definitely have a drone to get crop data. After doing a few construction surveys though I began to think that it was a lot of work to do it right, and farmers, especially big-ag would rather subcontract it out to someone so all they knew was the data would land in their inbox every Wednesday or so. I see this as an opportunity for people who live in farming areas who'd like to get into the business as a Part 107. I don't know how that business model is going to firm up.

Events - I see no future in the event market for anyone who wants to do it as a business. The reason is everyone is going to have an uncle or cousin who will fly over an event and provide the video for free. Another problem with events, at least for me, is that my insurance company has limited my events to 20 people or less. If I fly over an event with 21 people and I have an accident my insurance company is going to cut me loose. Part 107 does not require insurance so people operating under Part 107 will be able to do it at their own risk. Even though I can operate at my own risk also, I choose not to.

General videography and photography including real estate - I don't think we'll see an explosion of people offering it, just an explosion of people who are legally offering it. I sat on my drone for 6 months waiting to get my 333 before I started in this market, all the time pissed off that others were doing it without their 333. I think that people who are illegally doing it now will get legal. I think that this market will end up reflecting professional real estate photography, some Realtors will see the advantage and hire someone who can provide quality images, others will use their cell phone and their nephew with a drone.

I see the drone market expanding as the technology matures and is able to do more.

One area where see growth is in companies that act as brokers, Droners.IO is the one I like. I see these companies becoming trusted agents that consumers become aware of as sources where they can find people who know what they're doing. Operators pay a percentage of their gross to the agents. Droners.IO keeps 10%, which I think is more than fair. Some agents charge operators to list, I personally don't like that model since they don't have any skin in the game to get jobs.

This is all opinion, I don't have any market research to back any of it up.
 
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Thanks Ed. I feel a lot of what you said is valid. I'd like to hear from others now to get what I hope is a group discussion going.

From my perspective, I'm starting to think that drone startups looking to provide aerial data are going to have a tough time.
 
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Oh I agree completely. For one thing the market is already pretty saturated. I think people who do market research will come to the conclusion that the entry cost is too high and their ROI is too long.

Of the people who get into the market I think we'll see the usual progression.

Most will find that their initial investment wasn't nearly enough to do the job properly (I have over $1000 in batteries alone) and fall out because they can't provide what clients want.

Some will put more money and time into it. Of these most will probably fall out due to market conditions. The survivors will be welcome.

Something I'm pushing now is to partner with existing commercial photographers/videographers who are looking at the market. If they do their proper market research they'll find the cost is pretty high so I give them a way to offer the service without any of the upfront cost. I charge them a wholesale rate and they can charge their client whatever they can get away with.
 
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So in your experience, what are clients typically wanting?
I've spoken to a couple farmers, and the feedback I'm.getting is that they don't feel NDVI is useful enough to pay someone, and if they did want it, they would simply buy their own drone and do it themselves. One said half the farmers he knows own manned planes, and some own planes and fly without a license and don't really care about regulators. He also said farmers are wealthy and buy there own equipment, and one farmer he knows owns 6 Drones. It makes me think the market there to apply provide aerial data with multi spectral imaging really isn't there at all for start ups.
 
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So in your experience, what are clients typically wanting?
I've spoken to a couple farmers, and the feedback I'm.getting is that they don't feel NDVI is useful enough to pay someone, and if they did want it, they would simply buy their own drone and do it themselves. One said half the farmers he knows own manned planes, and some own planes and fly without a license and don't really care about regulators. He also said farmers are wealthy and buy there own equipment, and one farmer he knows owns 6 Drones. It makes me think the market there to apply provide aerial data with multi spectral imaging really isn't there at all for start ups.
I haven't talked to any farmers, my clients are all after real estate or marketing imaging.

I think once the novelty wears off it will come down to a make/buy decision based on how much time it takes to actually survey all that land.

For the Solo I plan my flight times at 20 minutes. I can survey about 20 acres with an 80% side and overlap. Just guessing but I could probably double that while doing NDVI. So if I'm doing a 1,000 acre farm I'm looking at 25 flights. That's going to take a day to do. So the question becomes, is someone willing to burn a day to get data they can get someone else to obtain?

I'm guessing that farmers don't have a lot of spare days.

Once people figure out that you can't send a drone up and then 20 minutes later have your data they'll want to outsource it.

I also think that copter drones like Solo are not the way to go. A fixed wing drone that is much more efficient with the available energy is more likely to come out the winner in this market.

As to if NDVI data is worth it, that will be determined by the market. If farms are able to increase yield while decreasing costs the argument is over.
 
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I'm a terrible drone pilot. I don't practice. I spent about 20 mins learning the Solo, then went right out and started shooting footage for TV commercials (I do a bunch of local car and RV lots). In GPS mode, using cable, it's simple and easy to fly these things. It sure took me a lot longer to learn how to frame a good shot then to fly a solo. My grandson can do it. My point is, I suspect that drones are getting easy enough for even bad pilots like me to fly without training (my self-training cost me 4 props). And I only paid $599 for my Solo! Just not sure why someone would hire out for shots unless it was just a one-time thing. Kind of like, my 85 year old parents hired a Geek Squad guy to come out and set up their TV/Cable/sound system. Most average people just do it themselves.

I'm not a pilot, I'm a video production guy. I'm sure there are much more complicated drones that will do more stuff that require hire-able skills. But the Solo doesn't seem to be something I'd want to try to make a living at. With the SOLO, the drone flying part is the easy, anyone can do it part of my work. I'm not sure there is much value in it compared to many other things, making it hard to charge for. If I'm already doing a shoot for a commercial, I add an extra $50-$100 for the drone shots. I'm out there shooting already, and it takes me, what? Fifteen minutes of setting a few points and pushing PLAY? Whereas, to do a short video sound bite I set lights, multiple cameras, audio mic and monitor levels, etc. All which require a lot more skills and experience to do well. The Solo shots are the easy, simple part.

Maybe teaching a farmer or some other end user how to hit Fly, and then A, and then B, and then PLAY.... Oh shoot! I just did the entire lesson in one sentence!

I've got a friend who does homemade drone racing. NOW we're talking skills! A little Solo drone action is child's play (in GPS mode!). I just don't see an industry in the future as it gets even easier. When (IF!) a battery ever lasts an hour, a farmer could set points once and then just hit play and go back to work.

Just to be clear, I'm only talking SOLO. I'm sure there are much more complicated drones that will do more stuff that require hire-able skills. But the Solo doesn't seem to be something I'd want to try to make a living at.

Oh, and one more admission of guilt. I did also buy better antennas, 3 extra batteries, a dedicated gopro, a cheap tablet for the monitor, and soon the wireless replacement circuit boards. I'll be into it about 2k. I've made most of that back already on existing jobs I add the Solo to with a fee bump.
 
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Thanks for the feedback Rick. In your experienced opinion, do you see any opportunity for a drone business that provides services mentioned above, or do you feel that most companies will simply buy there own drone, and that the business opportunity lays more with the drone manufacturers and drone software providers such as drone deploy and the like?
 
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Thanks for the feedback Rick. In your experienced opinion, do you see any opportunity for a drone business that provides services mentioned above, or do you feel that most companies will simply buy there own drone, and that the business opportunity lays more with the drone manufacturers and drone software providers such as drone deploy and the like?
Oh, well... my experience is so localized that I don't know. My opinion of what's to come is just soothsaying! But if I had to guess... Even the schools in my area are starting to own drones for their students to use. Software get's easier and more anyone-can-use. People tend to give value to things that not everyone can do. The GOAL of the market is to make it so that anyone can do it.

We'll see. I've been wrong plenty of times before - just ask my wife! :)
 
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I'm a terrible drone pilot. I don't practice. I spent about 20 mins learning the Solo, then went right out and started shooting footage for TV commercials (I do a bunch of local car and RV lots).

Rick, thanks for taking the time to offer your opinions on the market, and as a video producer I agree with a lot that you have said. In fact, I believe that the ubiquity of these flying contraptions is going to all but force any company that wants to remain relevant and current in production values and cultural aesthetics to add aerial to its offering. And many of those companies currently charging a premium for straight-forward aerial shoots may find they have to reduce their rates to compete with every videographer who has a camera drone in a road case in the back of the truck.
 
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[QUOTE="bluesgeek,]

I don't like to criticize my friends on the board, but frankly I'm appalled by what you are saying,
Yup, I agree with you, and, yeah, yeah... I was exaggerating my ineptitude to make the point. I do have about 80 hours flight time on my old DJI Phantom2, and I did buy a cheapie toy coptor to practice flying manual even before I bought the P2 a few years back.

Great post, though! Thanks!
 
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Yup, I agree with you, and, yeah, yeah... I was exaggerating my ineptitude to make the point. I do have about 80 hours flight time on my old DJI Phantom2, and I did buy a cheapie toy coptor to practice flying manual even before I bought the P2 a few years back.

Great post, though! Thanks!

That's a big relief.

And thanks for being a gentleman in response to that withering fire.
 
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Isn't it nice when we are all ladies and gentlemen? :cool:

It is freekin incredible. I'm amazed by the quality of this community every single day. Mostly :)

I think this is going to go just like the web explosion did back in the early 2000s. We're going to see a lot of hacks trying (and failing) to make a business for a while, but those folks will die off quickly as consumers learn to recognize them, and the market will stabilize, as it always does, until we have only the approximate right amount of drone operators, with a range of quality from good enough to excellent. I just hope nobody gets killed during that learning period. Some of the things I see from "professional" drone operators right now are pretty scary. That will come to an end soon enough.
 
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As a Canadian the rules are quite restrictive if you do business. Special permission using SFOC process is needed. To me there is business opportunity as the offer from legal operators seems pretty low.
 

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